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Tips for Sandy Soaked Vehicles

With Sandy thankfully out of the area, many Car Talk fans are asking us whether their cars are totalled And, if not, what should they check?

Here are Tom and Ray’s tips, but we’d like to throw it your way, too! What are your suggestions? Share your thoughts right here-- and we’ll share this discussion far and wide, with Car Talk listeners in need.

Yours in staying high and dry,

How about buying a boatload of Shamwows?

Seriously, if electronics have been submerged for any length of time, there’s a good chance the modules are toast. You can try cleaning them with distilled water to wash the crud out and then dry them but 9 times out of 10 (guestimate) they are done for.

Call your insurance company. And do not be optimistic.

The truth is that it’ll depend largely on the car, how deeply it was submersed, AND THE WATER. For example, jeeps are designed to be washed out with a hose; Mazda Miatas are not. The jeep would fare far better if partially submerged…although I still wouldn’t want to buy one that had been. And any vehicle submerged in water contaminated by sewage is pretty much ready for the crusher. The potential problems are right out of a horror movie.

And that raises a good point for those looking for used cars…BE CAREFUL. Many of these vehicles WILL end up on the used car market…in states across the country. God must love unethical people, 'cause he made plenty of 'em and they’re everywhere.

+1 to mountainbike’s comments, and I want to add that prospective car buyers would be wise to NOT trust Carfax and similar services when trying to determine if a particular car was a “flood car”.
Carfax is only as good as what is reported to it, and there are always flood-damaged cars that appear on Carfax as unsullied, one-owner “creampuffs”.

Only a thorough examination by a skilled mechanic can tell you for sure if a car spent any time submerged.

Incidentally, if anyone was wondering about my absence from this forum for several days, I was w/o electricity up until 11:30 last night, as one of Sandy’s victims. Luckily, my house only sustained some roof damage, plus a damaged fence, and a tree that is leaning at a precarious angle. Compared to lots of other folks in NJ & NY, I was very lucky to only have that relatively minor damage and to have been w/o heat and electric power for just a few days. Many folks lost their homes, sad to say.

Truely sorry to hear that you got hit by Sandy, but glad to hear that the damage was minor. Here in NH we lucked out.

Stay safe. We need you.


If you’ve made the choice to attempt to save you vehicle…DO NOT RUN OR OPERATE ANYTHING !
untill after you disassemble and DRY .
Far too many electronics will zap instantly if you try to operate anything.
– Most computer modules , fuse boxes, radios, amps, etc can be opened up…circuit boards removed-cleaned-and dried BEFORE energizing.
– un-plug and dry every connection, plug, and junction.
– take out the seats, take apart the upholstery, take out the carpets and pads, take off every interior trim panel…etc.etc.etc.

Completely dis-assemble the entire car like a model kit or restoration job…because you are restoring it.
re-lube or pant as needed.
HOPE that it all works.

I’ve dis-assembled - dried - and re-assembled many electronics like phones, ipods, computers and toys, and the ones that were NOT powered up while wet DID work again despite having been through the washer or dropped in the toilet or spilled upon.

But some things have a hot memory circuit and fry upon getting wet.

Electronics can survive wetness even if on when they get wet. My Nokia phone was once submerged in pool water (luckily for only about 10-15 seconds). I let it dry in the hot sun and put it in some rice later. Good as new! However, car electronics, with relays, motors, and all that jazz may probably will take more damage from immersion.

It isn’t like these vehicles were/are still…dunked and dried immediately. Most or all are still sitting under water. There will be some unscrupulous dealers looking to unload some of them down the road…Beware !

As far as the people of the area are concerned, I worry that their problems have only just begun and they will need our support, federally, for some time to come. Our tax dollars are well spent…any one of us could be next. Climate change should be the impetuous to refocus our military and industrial might here at home.

Big issue here is that much of the flooding (storm surge) was salty water. That can quickly corrode and damage things.

Unfortunately, there will probably be tens of thousands of them. According to the U.S. census bureau, there were about 6.7 million people and 1/2 million businesses in the areas declared disaster areas. According to the NY Daily News, 250,000 cars are expected to be scrapped. It’s very important at this time for used car buyers to be very careful.

My heart goes out to all those who lost everything and all those still struggling to get back to some sense of normalcy. This is truely a terrible disaster.

I have resurrected 3 Flood vehicles in total. I have driven each of them for over 5 years with little to no issues. The way I got one of my flood cars was the worst case scenario…It got flooded while on the street with Brackish water…probably more salt than fresh water… AND THEN…IT SAT… The sitting afterward was the KILLER… I had to cut off my main ECU wire plug…and resolder a “new” one on…went fine just tedious with about 120+ wires to solder. Other than that I believe I drove that Honda Prelude for like 8 years in all…Honestly one of the best cars Ive ever owned so far…I miss her…sold it afterward as well AT A PROFIT Bought it for 400…drove it for 8 years and sold it for 2000 I think? LOL

If and when a car gets wet…REALLY wet… You need to obviously disconnect the battery (eventhough its too late to prevent the electrical damage) Just undo the batt connections to prevent the wayward fire after it dries out and possibly starts shorting out everywhere

MOST of the cars in Sandy’s path will be flooded with SALT WATER…WHICH IS BAD…REAL BAD.

If it were me… once the car was flooded…I would IMMEDIATELY disconnect the battery…and then REFLOOD the vehicle with FRESH WATER (easy right? lol…no its not…not possible most times so a hose will have to do) And lots of disassembly…like everything needs to come apart and or out and oiled rinsed etc…the water damage has been done so wetting it more wont hurt it… Now you need to prevent CORROSION…which may be impossible to stop or prevent in its entirety. Basically the idea here is to ACT FAST…and I mean every minute counts. I would reflood it with Fresh water… Discard the ECU’s and begin the ressurection. I am a mechanic so all the next steps are relatively easy…for me anyway. I would be pulling the spark plugs and pushing any water out of the engine…spray fogging oil into the cylinders etc… many vehicles will not have water INSIDE the engine…unless it went nearly UNDER water. Then basically letting the vehicle dry…dry …dry… Before reinstalling a used ECU and a new batt if your old batt fried… Then carefully try to start her up…OH CRAP…I forgot all the FUEL ISSUES you will need to address… LOL…God…there is a GOOD reason the insurance company will QUICKLY TOTAL these cars. It was only out of boredom and a challenge that made me ressurect my vehicles.

Keep in mind the last flood car I did was that 89 PRelude…so NOT a majorly computerized vehicle… The latest vehicles of today are rolling computers so the damage will be EXTENSIVE and may be irreversable…they will probably suffer MANY or TOTAL electronic failure…so much so that I dont even want to think about it.

In most cases the solution is to simply call your insurance company and see what happens. But if you are a mechanic…and I think ONLY IF YOU ARE A MECHANIC…You can try to ressurect the vehicle… Most people will just make a phone call to their insurer… If you are going to try to ressurect the car…Simply post your questions as you have them… There is no way to do a writeup of what needs doing…as it changes from vehicle to vehicle…

WOW this was a LONG response to say… “call your insurance company” LOL

It is possible to ressurect the vehicle if it was acted upon quickly…and if you are FAR more than just a tinkerer level mechanic… This is MAJOR MECHANIC level territory here so…Tinkerers need NOT apply… BE forewarned…and just call your insurance co… LOL


If it was fresh water as in rain water definitely salvagable. Salt water depending on it’s salinity is a death nail. You may get it running after a thorough cleaning with fresh water and replacing electrical components but it can start having random ghost electrical problems. I live on an island surrounded by salt water and know this first hand. I have had people come to my shop with vehicles that have been salt water flooded and spend money until they are tired of replacing everything that goes wrong. When you factor in the newer cars with more complex electrical and control systems it only gets worse. Time submerged is also a factor. We had hurricaine Irene here last year. Where I am vehicles were submerged at least 6 hours, maybe a tad more. Personally my wife lost a 2007 Corvette, totaled. My 1991 Suburban and her Tahoe were also flooded. Her Tahoe is beginning to have random electrical issues, my Suburban is still running after replacing the starter. They were both diesels, the Tahoe is a 1996 with more electronics and my Suburban has a simple electrical system. My suggestion is if you can do the work give it a shot, nothing to lose at this point. If you have to pay someone it can get expensive. After Irene last year insurance companies were totaling vehicles that had water halfway up the wheel, not in any electrical parts, no questions asked. Another thought is if they total your car they will usually offer to sell it back to you for pennies on the dollar, once again this is what happened here after Irene hit. My 2 cents worth.

If the water got up to the bottom edge of the steering wheel, salt water, 90% of the time the car is totaled…The cost to perform an effective restoration will exceed the value of a similar undamaged vehicle…ALL of the switches and electrical connections will have been damaged…It may take weeks for the damage to materialize…

“…It may take weeks for the damage to materialize.”

That’s true, and not just for cars. My wife’s coworker owns a beach house on the Delaware shore. Only now are they experiencing house fires. Two homes in her beach neighborhood burned down. She went to her house and stopped the restoration crew until the had checked every electrical outlet that was flooded. All of them were corroded, and they found a line burned into plywood where an electrical wire ran. She was very lucky that her house wasn’t worked on immediately.

If anyone watches American Chopper…Paul Jr did a memorial bike for 911 a couple of years ago. The last couple of episodes they went down to NYC to retrieve the bike at the museum it’s at because the bike was submerged in Salt water from Sandy.

The bike is a complete mess. Everything mechanical has to be replaced. The bike has to be completely torn down, cleaned, repainted, re-chromed, and rebuilt. THOUSANDS of dollars of damage. The bike was a complete mess.

After seeing this show…I’d NEVER touch a car that had been in salt water…even for a few minutes.

Hi guys. I just got back from from the storm. I read the posts. This the real story on these flood cars. First its state law in NJ and NY if the salt/brakish water got into the car at floor level or higher it will be a total loss. I have totaled many a car that was driving and seem to be ok. We are seeing air bags going off in these cars. It could happen while driving or just turing on the car. If you have a any kind of Hybrid car,dont touch it. You could get hurt or wrose. I had one were the guy dried out the car and was driving it. The power seat switch started a fire in the seat. If your car gets flooded the only thing to do is call your insurance company. DO NOT PUT A KEY IN IT FOR ANY REASON!!! We lost a adjuster to a air bag that hit him in the head when he put the key in to read the mileage. This whats happens to the Sandy flood cars. Taken on the NJ turn pike.

turn upside down, shake out, hang dry. Then sell it for pennies on the dollar.

Can an average mechanic tell if a car has been flooded? Will soon be looking for a car and was thinking used, since new cars are not cheap. Reliability and safety are top priorities with me.

Interesting story about Sandy vehicles in the NY Times:

@Mim It should not be to hard for a good mechanic to tell. I would ask them to check for signs of flooding inside of the car.